By PETER FRANK October 29, 2023
Art is one type of metaphor; science is another. Science seeks to close the gap between what we know and what exists; art seeks to explore the gap itself. The two realms of human experience may seem to station themselves on opposite ends of our epistemic spectrum, but in fact they both embrace the entirety of that spectrum, mirroring each other like so many phenomena pertaining to human consciousness, beginning – but hardly ending – with the two sides of the brain and the bifurcation of the heart.
How, then, do these two parallel pursuits, these (non-identical) twin sisters, acknowledge each other’s kinship? There has always been an “art” to the observation and manifestation of science, whether in detailed observation or data compilation or logical (but still fanciful) projection. Accuracy of rendering is always increasing, even as the data itself become ever more vast and uncertain. Quantum physics, new discoveries in astronomy, the investigation of life at the DNA/RNA level, such astounding revelations have an almost aesthetic resonance in their unlikely, uncanny emergence. Perhaps we can only first understand these discoveries as art. Scientists will tell you they do.
Seta Injeyan works, concentratedly and comfortably, in this realm of science-as-art – or, if you will, science-seen-first-as-art. In her Celestial Eye series, the imagery of the deep universe sent back to earth just this year by the James Webb Space Telescope explodes before us as art; beyond its truth, it is beautiful. Equally, though, in Injeyan’s Cosmic Alchemy series, a science from several hundred, even a thousand, years ago, now fully discredited in practical terms but still part of our cultural patrimony, yields itself up as art. Medicine has grown far from the alchemical theory of the “four humors;” we don’t treat the “phlegmatic” for their sloth any more, nor do we try to temper the “choleric’s” ire. And we certainly don’t define medical practice as the effort to bring these humors into corporeal balance. These secretive “personalities,” originally defined by Hippocrates some 2½ millennia ago, come from elsewhere besides the vital organs – but their poetic sway over our imagination persists, and in persisting fascinate an artist like Injeyan who delights in slippages in meaning and perception, the very slippages that allow science to grow – and art to evolve with it.
Embracing the antique and the latter-day with equal awe and fervor – placing her astronomical imagery and the Hippocratic system under a single rubric, Organic Flows -- Injeyan’s artistic sensibility rests on color and motion, a kinetic sense not of hue as form so much as of form and hue co-generating into the apparition of light’s movement – a not-so-oblique conjuration of Einstein’s equations. Note, though, that Injeyan does not seek simply to portray scientific phenomena as art, but to propose the condition of scientific phenomena as her paintings’ raison d’être. Her work is not illustrative, it is sensitive, reacting to and forming around our most advanced notions of the physical universe and, by contrast, the least advanced notions of the physical body.
Further, unlike so many science-oriented artists today, Injeyan is not preoccupied with technology per se. Given the staggering advances we have witnessed in recent technological developments, artists’ fascination with the new machinery and the new information sensibility comes only naturally. Injeyan, however, concerns herself more with the information – especially visual information – made available by the new technologies and its reinterpretation – translation, perhaps – into self-defining, self-sustaining artworks.
Injeyan employs this “translation” in her own artistic self-possession, consciously balancing the formal languages of the Cosmic Alchemy and Celestial Eye subseries and defining thereby the visual language of the Organic Forms project overall. “The swirling colors and intricate patterns echo the elusive nature of both alchemical transformations and the gravitational forces that shape our universe,” Injeyan writes of her Cosmic Alchemy paintings – but could just as readily be writing of her Celestial Eye works, “…the alchemical dance between elements and the cosmic ballet of imploding stars.”
Seta Injeyan’s Organic Flows series – certainly the Cosmic Alchemy and Celestial Eye subseries recently and currently preoccupying her – take not just the image, but the impulse human science provides us to know more, to know better, and never to lose the twin senses of adventure and awe. Abstract as they may be, these paintings look up at the sky and under the skin with a mix of rational, mystical, and personal esprit. In these paintings, “space” is itself a humor. WM
PETER FRANK is an art critic, curator, and editor based in Los Angeles, where he serves as Associate Editor of Fabrik Magazine. He began his career in his native New York, where he wrote for The Village Voice and The SoHo Weekly News and organized exhibitions for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Alternative Museum. He is former Senior Curator at the Riverside (CA) Art Museum and former editor of Visions Art Quarterly and THEmagazine Los Angeles, and was art critic for LA Weekly and Angeleno Magazine. He has worked curatorially for Documenta, the Venice Biennale, and many other national and international venues. (Photo: Eric Minh Swenson)
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